- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

More than a decade of effort to provide standards-based education reform has yielded gains, especially in mathematics, on national achievement tests in the fourth and eighth grades, a report shows.

The “Quality Counts 2006” report, released yesterday by Education Week newspaper, showed marked progress, both nationally and locally, in closing achievement gaps in math between white students and minorities and between poor and non-poor students.

After a decade of tracking state policy efforts in education, the results are “both heartening and sobering,” Lynn Olson, senior editor at Education Week, said at the press conference.

They are heartening, she said, “because student achievement has gotten better,” but also “sobering, because despite solid gains, improvement has not come as far and fast as we would like.” Although the study found that students are making significant progress in math, it revealed minimal improvement in reading.

Results showed that since 1992, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) examination in fourth-grade math have risen by 18.5 points on a 500-point scale, or nearly two grade levels.

Since 1992, national eighth-grade math performance has improved by 10.7 points, or one grade level, the report found.

The largest reduction in the achievement gap, nearly nine points, was found between black and white students in fourth-grade math.

“In contrast, the national average in reading barely budged … inching up just two points in grades four and eight,” Ms. Olson said.

Asked to explain why reading progress is lagging, Chris Swanson, director of the Research Center at the Editorial Projects in Education, an Education Week affiliate, said: “Some subjects may be more amenable to policy influences” than others.

He said a child’s reading skills can be related to the family’s socioeconomic status and whether the parents are reading enthusiasts who have books at home. “Math may be a more exclusively school-based program,” he added.

The report showed that Maryland fourth-graders improved above the national average in reading and that Virginia eighth-graders rose above the average in math.

D.C. public school students showed a narrowing in the achievement gap between the poor and non-poor both in fourth-grade reading and math, and Virginia closed the gap between black and white students in eighth-grade math.

The report, produced with the support of the Pew Center on the States, identified seven states — six in the South and Delaware — whose improvements in both fourth- and eighth-grade math on NAEP “significantly outpaced those for the nation as a whole.”

Delaware was the only state that achieved reading improvement above the national average both in grade four from 1992 to 2005, and in grade eight from 1998 to 2005.

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